Thirty-five years after Friday the 13th hit theaters and became a box office success, Adrienne King still thinks it’s “pretty damn cool” that we want to ask her about her role as Alice Hardy, the one camp counselor who escaped the wrath of Pamela Voorhees. Why wouldn’t we want to talk about that iconic role? After all, King’s legacy is that of the “First Final Girl” or “Sole Survivor,” and she’s certainly one of the horror genre’s greatest Scream Queens. She even sells a variety of wines that are named for the summer camp that Alice barely escaped.
As she and the cast and crew of Friday the 13th recently explained to us, they never thought that this was something that would define them as actors or establish them as genre icons, but it did, and with that fame came King’s opportunity to forever wear her crown and be introduced by many titles to her legion of loyal fans. However, that fame also brought about an unexpected element of terror in King’s life, as she was unable to celebrate the amazing success of Friday the 13th after its release on May 9, 1980, because of a real-life stalker who followed her as far as London to threaten her, simply because she reminded him of someone who once wronged him. It could have been ironic if it hadn’t been so horrifying.
However, unlike recent high profile threats with celebrities like Sandra Bullock and Ariana Grande, King’s stalker situation occurred in an era when law enforcement simply didn’t take it seriously. As King told us, prior to Rebecca Schaeffer’s murder in 1989, the idea of celebrity stalkers was almost a joke to the people who should have protected King when she needed them most. Amazingly, 35 years later, King has turned her own scary story into a source of inspiration for people of all ages.
For a year and a half, we didn’t know who the stalker was. You have to remember there were no video cameras, no security cameras around, no cell phones. I would get very bizarre things. I would get, for instance, Polaroids under my door of what I had been doing the day before or the night before in a Chinese or Italian menu. It was New York City, I was in a doorman building. It’s very freaky. The guy was not a “horror fan.” He just happened to have seen the movie with some friends, because everyone was seeing it. And when we eventually figured out who it was, it had nothing to do with whether I lived or died or anything. It had to do with the fact that I reminded him of someone in his past who had done something horrible to him. Very bizarre. Very strange.
You know that story about Sandra Bullock in the closet? She had a stalker and she’s in court right now. I was watching the news when they played her 9-1-1 call. I lived in Marina Del Ray at my sister’s house when this happened to me and I was literally calling the cops from inside my sister’s closet. We’ve come a long way in the world of just validating women and their right to choose the film roles they want and not be judged. The cops would say, “Well, what would you expect? Look at the movie you did.”
One question that King has heard a lot over the years, including from us, is: “Why did Alice die in 1981’s Friday the 13th Part 2?” Her character was able to make it out of Camp Crystal Lake in the first film after lopping Mrs. Voorhees’ head off, so why did Alice have to meet her maker in the beginning of the second film? It’s a complicated answer, because as King has reminded people in the past, Alice’s death actually came in a nightmare — “a nightmare within a nightmare” — so the character was never actually killed. But King’s role in the sequel was also minimized because of what she had been going through with her stalker.
The reason my character died was, we had a meeting about it, because when Part 2 had come, a stalker was already present in my world. I couldn’t handle doing another film and dealing with what no one else seemed to want to deal with. It was worse because we didn’t know who the stalker was and it was drawn out and this person was so brilliant. Stalkers can be brilliant, they can have a lot of money, and they can have a lot of contacts politically. Stalkers are not necessarily homeless bums who are penniless. So, just think about that if you have someone who wants to take you down, and they got the ammunition to do it, you could be as strong as you want and still go down. I first ran away to Los Angeles and he followed me, so I ran away to London.
It really kind of spun me into a very weird place. As an artist my art went very, very dark. Actually, the collectible art of mine right now, because it was my salvation, it was what I turned to because no one back then talked about. My agents were all like, “Shhh, don’t talk about it, they’ll think you’re nuts. Don’t tell anyone. That would be terrible if they knew you were being stalked.” What I ended up doing was I auditioned for the The Royal Academy in London and they took me, God bless them, and that’s why London is my second home. Interestingly enough, my art is in galleries there and does incredibly well.
The entire ordeal lasted about a year-and-a-half, as her stalker was finally arrested. But while she was free to go on with her life and career, King was burdened with emotional stress to the point that it affected her ability to be on camera. King sought professional therapy for her stress, and believed for years that she was healed because of it, but it wasn’t until she truly accepted her status as the First Final Girl and a Scream Queen at a horror convention that she knew that she was truly healed.
When I came back to this country in ’84, my agent had me screen test for All My Children and I got the role, and I was in the wings ready to go on, and then all the sudden I had my first anxiety attack. So, having acted my whole life, my agent and I knew it was time to do voiceover work because obviously I had been through something that had really clicked inside of me that I couldn’t handle, and I guess it was something about being on camera. It kind of really screwed me up for a long time.
After some good therapy in the ‘90s in L.A. [laughs] — I have a great shrink if you ever need one — it saved me a lot. The truth of the matter is, in 2004, at my first real horror convention, it was the fans who healed the last piece of my heart that I didn’t even know needed healing. It was amazing. Huge convention and there had to be 800 people in the audience, my first question for the Q&A at the panel was: “Why did you leave in Part 2? Why did you let them kill you?” I call my fans my Happy Campers, because it was at this point when I told them the story in a nutshell, I didn’t draw it out, but enough to let them know I hadn’t left them. Honestly, not a dry eye in the audience. And we’re talking big, tattooed, Harley Davidson guys. They came up to me afterwards and said, “I want you to take my number and if anybody ever bothers you, you tell me.” I actually have two FBI agents on my speed-dial. Serious fans. And that’s what healed that little piece of my heart that still needed healing that I didn’t even know needed healing.
I have two very cool, savvy FBI agents, one on each coast, god forbid I ever need it. And I don’t. Because the guy who was my stalker was not what I would call a horror fan. He was just a whack job. And here’s the cool thing about horror fans, especially my jolly campers, they get their jollies out in the theatre. They go with their friends and they ride the roller coaster, and they get it out of the dark there. They don’t take it out on the streets. People think horror fans are whack jobs, but they’re very cool, very balanced people. They may go a little nuts over a particular genre and their camp, whether it be the Friday the 13th camp or the Nightmare on Elm Street camp, whatever it is. They are balanced people because they get it out in the theatre, or on their TV, on the screen.
Back in the day women who did horror films were looked down upon in a way of, “Oh my God, how could you allow yourself?” Well, we didn’t allow ourselves to be, we were the first.
In discussing the legacy of Friday the 13th, everyone we spoke to involved with the making of the film seemed to share the sentiment that this was first and foremost a paycheck when they signed on. Only once the film was released did they realize that this was a Hollywood box office hit, and it took years for them to comprehend that the original film means a lot to so many people. For King, the lasting popularity of Friday the 13th has allowed her to build Alice into something far more meaningful than just the counselor who stopped Mrs. Voorhees. For her and her fans, Alice is an inspiration.
Alice was not a worrier, she was a survivor. She was not someone who went out there to cause harm, but when she was pushed against a wall she fought back. And I guess now I can say I’m truly proud of that character because she does give a lot of strength to a lot of people. With social media, I’ve been able to embrace that and give back. It’s so full circle I can’t even begin to explain. You’re touching places now that I don’t normally go into on an interview, but it’s truly an amazing scenario that I can say my character has actually been able to help people.
I can literally speak to all the people who look to Alice as their touchstone. A lot of people go into bullying. I get letters. I actually made a phone call to a 12-year-old boy last week. His mother Facebooked me saying that he was feeling suicidal and he would pop in Friday the 13th when he came home and it would give him strength, and she said, “If you called him, I think it would really make him feel better.” The fact that I, as an actor, was able to touch so many people and give them that safety net, who would have thought? Who would have ever guessed?
And that was one just recently. I’ve had some other people, I’ll get these little messages and I’ll write back. And the fact that I write back on Facebook to my fans, I try to keep up and they understand that I do the best I can. But I’m very down to Earth and I believe that everybody goes through hell at some point in their life. Luckily I got mine out when I was old enough to deal with it, not especially well, but at least I wasn’t a kid bullied. But I saw a lot of bullying. Now, to be able to help in that scenario, it’s just wonderful. And whatever I can do to give back in that scenario.
We have a Sparrow Club up here in Southern Oregon and I’m very involved with them because they teach compassion at a young age in the school system. Kids in middle school adopt a child going through cancer, and the energy that would go into bullying or going into finding compassion, I think it’s so important for people to realize to be able to give back. I know a lot of actors do it and it’s wonderful that I’m able to be in that position.
My fans, my Happy Campers, that’s why I guess I feel so connected to them and why I go to the extra mile, the extra yard, whatever it is. If I know someone’s hurting, I make them feel better. Because they did for me.